WNPR

Hartford Residents Discuss District's Plan To Address Abuse And Neglect In Schools

Mar 24, 2017

Hartford residents gathered Thursday at a city school to talk about a report that found the school district failed to protect students from abuse and neglect for the last decade. District leaders have a plan in place to address this longstanding problem.

The Office of the Child Advocate documented how allegations had been made against a now former school administrator for inappropriately touching and interacting with students as far back as 2007, and how the administrator was later promoted. State investigators looked further and found problems throughout the schools, and concluded that the district wasn’t adequately protecting its students.

"It kind of scares me to know that babies were being – children were being… molested, and neglected and abused," said Sapphire Snyder, a parent. "Could you imagine how those children felt coming to school every day?"

Snyder joined about 50 others for the community forum at Milner School. Her 7-year-old son goes there. Parents want accountability. Some pointed out that these findings are nothing new, and that they've grown used to being angry and disgusted with the district.

Craig Stallings, the school board chairman, said he was disgusted and angry at the findings, but not surprised. 

"As a student, I’ve seen a lot of this," said Stallings, who attended Hartford Schools. "I’ve witnessed a lot of it... I see a lot of people years later whose lives were completely ruined, and it was in the seventh grade... I can almost visualize the day that that particular person’s life was ruined."

Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said that almost all teachers and staff have since been trained on how to report these allegations. For years, many of them didn't know what to do.

Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez address a crowd at Milner School in Hartford.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

"All that is required for that trigger -- to trigger a report -- is that there's suspicion," Torres-Rodriguez said. "Suspicion of abuse or neglect. It's not our job to determine substantiation or not."

The district outlined several steps it's taken and will be taking to fix the problem. Officials said it's going to take years to change what's been described as a culture of acquiescence. The district is planning on having more of these forums to explain this process and get community feedback.